December 15, 2017

Maintaining Your Form

Ron Saetermoe

Excellence in athletics has a lot to do with your form. And while perfect form is impossible to achieve it is something we all need to strive for on the swim, bike and run.

It is possible to do well in triathlon even though you don’t have great form, however. Some folks make up for their form in other ways such as their strength or determination.

Russ Jones is one of those guys. While my form is far from perfect it is far better than Russ’. The thing is that when Russ and I race together we’re usually getting out of the water at about the same time.

I remember Strawberry Fields sprint in 2007. The surf was quite high that day which is usually a good thing for the stronger swimmers. On this day, however, Russ came out of the water just behind me and passed me on the beach run into transition. How’d he do it?

In Russ’ case it’s all about determination. You see, when he attacks a race he’s going all-out in each of the segments. He’s going at 100% on the swim and doesn’t even think about the bike until he’s riding. So while I “should” have beaten him, he actually beat me by two seconds.

Here’s the difference, if you can race at 85% of your maximum effort you’ll have more energy for the events that follow. Not everyone can go at 100% for an entire race, especially the longer stuff. That’s why your form is so important.

The swim is perhaps the event that depends the most on good form. You can usually tell whether a swimmer has good or poor form pretty quickly. They’re movements are fluid like they’re hardly working at all. The body rotation is excellent, their arms are reaching way out there and their “catch” is nice and shallow.

I think the run is the second most important to concentrate on. There is a lot of debate on what good form looks like for the run but bad form is easy to spot. Some say a forefoot strike is best while others say mid-foot is best. Others say a heel strike is fine. Frankly, I don’t know what’s best. There are so many opinions about it that it’s impossible to know.

I don’t know the guy, but the winner in the M50-54 age group at the OC Duathlon has the goofiest running form I’ve ever seen . . . but he did win. Again, while form is important, it’s not everything.

Generally, the best runners have fluid movements (just like swimmers). They don’t look like they’re working that hard, but they are going fast. They generally have their hands high and their heads don’t bounce much.

And while cycling form is perhaps the least important, it is still crucial because about 50% of any distance race is about the bike. Good form on the bike starts with a good bike fit. Again, there are lots of schools of thought here but here’s my take . . .

First, I think your bike position can be more aggressive (more forward in the saddle and back flat) for the shorter race. However, trying to do an Ironman in this same position might be impossible because it’s so painful to your back and neck. So, while position is important, comfort is just as important.

The other thing I notice about the best cyclists is that there isn’t a lot of body movement. My pal Larry Davidson has excellent form. I really noticed it a couple years ago at the Desert Triathlon as he blew by me. I’m working like crazy and my body is bouncing up and down and moving back and forth. Larry’s going faster than me and there’s no body movement. His legs are turning over but his body is perfectly still and his arms and legs are tucked in tightly.

So the place to start is to get someone to look at your form and then practice it. Yes, I hate drills too, but “perfect practice makes perfect.” And during your workouts really concentrate on your form to make sure you hold your form even as you tire or exert yourself. I think about it the most when I’m swimming. When I’m doing my speed intervals I’m thinking about my body position, my hand entry, even what my feet are doing.

If you want to get faster you need to be constantly working on your form. Get some help and you’ll get there.

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